Monday, March 20, 2023

Spiritual warfare #7

Remember Job? He is described this way, “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” [Job 1:1 NLT] That would seem to be a tag many followers of Jesus would like to have. The trouble is, it made him a lightning rod. You know, the kind that draws unwanted attention.


When Satan appears before God to report his activities, God points out Job. “Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” [Job 1:8 NLT] What follows becomes a nightmare, wrapped in a horror movie, packaged in a worst-case scenario for Job. His children are killed, his business collapses, and he is struck with painful boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.


One inconvenient story happens during Jesus’ life. We read, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:31 ESV] Yikes. Imagine Peter finding out that a target was put on his back and that Satan had zeroed in on him. The reality was that Peter would fail. Jesus requested that his FAITH would NOT fail. Having returned (implying restoration), Peter would strengthen others. Peter would always carry the embarrassing stigma of someone who denied Jesus. Peter would also be a walking reminder that failure is not permanent when FAITH does not fail.


The thing we do not want to admit is Satan’s ability to “demand” a trial. Another way to read that is, “Satan has asserted the right to sift you like wheat.” [CEB] For some reason, this demand (the ability to assert the right) seems to escape us in our English versions. The comforting thing is that Jesus interceded for Peter. Or as John observed, “My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” [1 John 2:1 CEB] The comforting thing is that Jesus intercedes for you if (or when) you do fail. However, your FAITH does not have to fail when you do.


In one of Jesus’s parables, He states, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” [Luke 12:20 ESV] This is known as a “gloss.” Who is requiring the man’s soul? The impression is the man would die that night. However, the Greek specifically states “This night THEY require…” Who is “they?”


If you are covered by God’s grace and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, you have an advocate that stands between you and justice. Pity the fool that gets what they deserve because they have no advocate when the accuser (see Revelation 12:10a) attacks. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Spiritual warfare #6

 While the tendency is to believe that a demon cannot possess a true believer in Christ, there is also the tendency to overlook the ability of the enemy of our souls to occupy strongholds in our minds. 2 Corinthians 10:4 – 5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholdsWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” [ESV]


Paul explains these “strongholds” are ideas (arguments and opinions) that set themselves against the knowledge of God. What kind of ideas set themselves up against God? Let me tackle that with a “Trinitarian” answer.


Generally, when the Bible speaks about “God” the reference is to “God the Father.” There are several world systems that wish to deny the existence of God in general. For instance, the “theory of evolution” is an attempt to frame “atheism” in the language of science. The reality of science is that the “facts” are always changing. Remember when scientists stated the world what flat? Unfortunately, the Pope at the time agreed. Thus, Christians have been tagged as “flat-earthers.” Paul dismisses this nonsense in one sentence, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” [Romans 1:20 NLT]


Two titles are attached to Jesus (“God the Son”). The first is “Christ.” This is the Greek way of saying “Messiah” (from the Old Testament). It means “anointed one.” Attached to this title are roughly 4000 years of prophecy pointing to Jesus as the one and only savior. The other title is “Lord.” In Paul’s day, the claim to “Lord” was to claim deity and the right to rule absolutely. Thus, not only is Jesus the undisputed point of prophecy, Jesus is also God, demonstrating and displaying all the qualities of “God the Father.” Anything (or anyone) that stands in the way of someone knowing Jesus as Christ (savior) AND Lord qualifies as a “stronghold” that is demonically fueled.


The Holy Spirit points people to Jesus. If you find a situation where the Holy Spirit is portrayed as center stage, I suspect you have found a satanic stronghold. Jesus put it this way, “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you.” [John 16:14 CEB] There is an advanced theological concept called “sanctification.” I call it advanced because many pastors and theologians have missed its point. The Bible paints the picture of crucifying the “flesh,” (“old man,” “sinful nature”) as both a single-point crisis settlement and a continual and progressive pattern of obedience and maturity. I believe this is done through yielding to Holy Spirit and acquiring His power for daily life.


As Paul pointed out, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20 CEB] And again, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.” [Galatians 5:24 CEB] Crucifixion was a sure but painfully protracted process. Thus, the image of a single-point crisis settlement (nailing to the cross) and the continual progressive pattern (dying on the cross).


What mental fortresses have you set up, or allowed, that keep you from knowing God?

Friday, February 24, 2023

Spiritual warfare #5

 Today’s spiritual warfare lesson is the claim that Satan can fill the heart of the believer. We see this in Acts 5:3, “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” [ESV]


This example shows a man (and his wife) who decided to lie. Because they lied, they died. The issue was not that they kept back part of the sale of the land. Why did this happen? Barnabas had sold a field and given it to the church to care for the needs of others (see Acts 4:31). My suspicion is that Ananias and his wife perceived this gave Barnabas status and decided to follow suit. Or maybe they wanted to genuinely help others but did not want to give everything. What matters is these two are believers whom Peter identifies as “Satan filled your heart.” What does this mean?


The word translated as “fill” is the same word used for the filling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 4:31. We know Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). When a believer lies, it’s a very dark place to be and a dangerous thing to do. Paul states in Romans 8:13 – 14, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” [NIV]


Think about this for a moment. Every one of us will die physically, so that’s not what Paul is telling the Romans. Paul generally refers to death as “spiritual” death. Meaning being separated from God and subject to eternal Hell (see Romans 6:23).


Now we wade into deep theological waters. Does that mean Ananias lost his salvation? The Bible does not tell us, either way, so it is not legitimate for us to ask/answer that question. The Bible does tell us that he was influenced by the devil to the point that Peter uses the same word for being “filled” with the Holy Spirit.


Maybe you can identify with Paul when he states, “So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me.” [Romans 7:21 CEB] For some reason God has allowed His people to struggle with sin and the mind behind sin, Satan. 

I think this does several things. First, it keeps us dependent on the Holy Spirit to fill us with the power (the ability) to overcome evil. Second, it makes us VESTED in our spiritual walk. This demonstrates the present and future benefits of our salvation. Finally, it reminds us that we are vulnerable and fatally flawed in our own strength. And that should keep us close to our Shepherd (Jesus). 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Spiritual warfare #4

One of the most dangerous teachings of the American church is “eternal security.” It’s dangerous because reduced to a mantra, it is misunderstood. It’s dangerous because it doesn’t line up with the Bible without serious mental gymnastics. It’s dangerous because it avoids the clear teaching of Scripture concerning basic spiritual dangers.


Maybe worst of all, the unexamined doctrine is dangerous because it ignores the potential impact of Satanic activity. Paul noted in 1 Timothy 5:15, For some have already strayed after Satan.” Specifically, Paul advised the church on how to deal with widows in the church. Paul notes that some of the younger widows have “strayed after Satan.”


Satan wants to separate believers from Jesus and God. The word translated “strayed” means to turn aside [NIV]. It is a word picture of someone who walks behind someone. Just so we have a clear picture of what it means “to stray,” Jesus used the same word in Matthew 16:24. “Then Jesus told his disciples“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (ESV)


Make no mistake: We are safe in Christ. However, we cannot be blind to the warnings and indulge the sinful passions of our sinful nature. Paul warned the Roman believers, "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." [Romans 8:13 NIV] Why would Paul give the Roman church this warning, if it were not possible to spiritually die?


Perhaps the confusion comes because we are “message-oriented” (saying the correct words) or “method-oriented” (following the correct method) instead of “model-oriented (being like Jesus). [This idea comes from Dan Spader, “Walk Like Jesus] Just saying the correct things (theology) and following the correct methods (programs) does not make a person (or church) like Jesus.


Whom are you walking behind? If you are not walking behind Jesus, then you are walking behind Satan. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Spiritual warfare #3

 There are five ways to understand God. Some deny God’s existence (atheism). Others dislike or reject God (agnostic). Others would ignore God (secularism). Some think that God exists but does not get involved (deism). Then there are those who believe that God interacts with humanity (theism). In the study of spiritual warfare, I am assuming the existence of a personal God who interacts with us. I also believe there is a personal devil who is a god-pretender and a bitter enemy of humanity.


Whether we like it or not, Satan (formerly called Lucifer) has abilities many Christians would ignore. Sometimes this is done by denial, and sometimes this is done by deliberately being ignorant. The thought process in denial is “proven” by 1 John 4:4, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” [NLT]


What John is saying is accurate. However, our interpretation of it is not true. Sticking our heads in the sand or saying “it ain’t so” doesn’t change the facts. Satan does have many ways to make life difficult for the Christian. Before I get into the next one, let me remind you that the enemy of your soul is on a leash. The devil can only go so far, as allowed by God, for your benefit. It stinks to think God would allow a dangerous adversary to cause His children problems, but let’s look at one of those abilities.


Satan can cause incurable illnesses and pain. 2 Corinthians 12:7 records Paul’s struggle, "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited." Notice the point that this illness, caused by a satanic agent (traditional understanding of "messenger") was allowed to keep Paul from becoming proud.


Paul prayed three times for this to go away (see 2 Corinthians 12:8). Then Paul records the lessons he has learned. 2 Corinthians 12:9a, Paul states, “He said to me, “My grace is enough for you because power is made perfect in weakness.” [CEB] One annoying tendency is to steal God’s glory by thinking that we have somehow accomplished something through our hard work and intelligence. Paul would rather that “Christ’s power can rest on me.” [2 Corinthians 12:9c CEB]


The next reason is that Paul learned to be content: “Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ.” [2 Corinthians 12:10a CEB] Too many of us lash out at anything that disturbs us. We end up thrashing against the will of God.


Finally, Paul’s tagline for this illness is, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." [2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV] The word translated as "strong" gives the sense of "absolute." Imagine this: The enemy of your soul causes physical and emotional anguish only to watch God make you invincible.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Spiritual warfare #2

 Spiritual warfare #2


Christian mythology (a.k.a. “theology”) has created a toothless, clawless, and witless devil. Let me remind the reader that ultimately, Satan is defeated. He has only the ability that God allows. That does not mean he is not dangerous.


Paul tells us to know Satan’s tactics so we will not be outwitted (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). Let’s look at what Satan can do to a church. Believe it or not, Satan can HINDER the ministry. Paul noted, "For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked [hindered, prevented, obstructed] our way." [1 Thessalonians 2:18 NIV] The word translated "blocked" has also been translated "hindered," "prevented," and "obstructed."


Paul was not the only one hindered by Satan. Jesus also experienced the hindering abilities of Satan. "But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." [Matthew 16:23 ESV] Let that sink into your thinking. Jesus recognized Satan’s hindrance. If Jesus was unable to escape active satanic hindrance, what makes us think we can escape it?


In Paul’s case, he was hindered by prison. In Jesus’ case, the hindrance was the words of a person. My suspicion is that Peter did not mean to hinder Jesus. Rather, Satan used Peter. It’s hard enough to deal with hostile external forces, but when considering the hindering influence that can come from internal sources, the task becomes very difficult.


When the church works to influence people, evangelize, or speak truth, the process can be stolen. Jesus told His disciples a story and then explained it to them. In Mark 4:15 we read, "This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them." [CEB] When someone hears the truth about Jesus, the enemy of our soul will do whatever is necessary to keep that seed from growing roots.


While it may not seem threatening, the ability to hinder church leaders and churches is discouraging for the health of the church in the long run. The ability to make the worker’s efforts fruitless has a discouraging effect. Discouragement is disruptive and can nudge some towards unwise actions and thoughts. The end of this disruption may be the destruction of a church leader, worker, or the church itself. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Spiritual warfare #1

January 31 2023


Christians are drawn to myth. When we enter the realm of the spiritual, physical beings are stuck trying to understand something beyond their ability to understand. For truth, we need to turn to the pages of the Bible rather than trusting our myths. One myth is that the enemy of our soul, the devil, cannot touch us.


If you carefully read the Bible, another picture emerges. It is accurate to believe that Satan is on a leash and can only do what God allows. It is also accurate to understand that our lives are under fire from this adversary. Unless we accept unbiblical mythology, we are not unaware (ignorant) of Satan's schemes and devices. The Bible tells us, "so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." [2 Corinthians 2:11 ESV]


Before we can understand Satan’s tactics, we must realize that we are in serious jeopardy. Underestimating his abilities and resources is a recipe for misery. On the other hand, we do not have to live in fear. I will cover several of our resources at the end of our series. Let’s take an honest look at the risk we face.


Peter warns, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." [1 Peter 5:8 ESV] Why would Peter issue this warning? Because this is a reality. There are generally two circumstances under which a lion will roar when it comes to a meal. First, the lion will roar as it attacks to disorient the prey. Second, the lion will roar after the kill to alert competitors to stay away. When we sense danger, as we should, the attack has already begun or has just finished successfully.


Paul advised, "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;" [Ephesians 6:16 ESV] Paul is describing the various pieces of armor available to the believer when fighting spiritually. He notes the evil one, our enemy, is attacking with "flaming darts." Paul would only give this advice if he believed, as directed by the Holy Spirit, that Satan (the evil one) was on the attack. 


In battle, the lion is in close quarters. This melee tactic involves confusion and brute strength. Flaming darts are an image of the Roman plumbata. This was essentially a short spear and a short-range weapon. While the front lines were engaged in a melee, those behind the lines could make use of these to clear out those that would reinforce those engaged in battle.


Satanic attacks can be direct, brutal, close-quarter melees, or they can be sneaky attacks that seem to come out of nowhere while we are engaged with something else. Next time we will look at how Satan can attack a church and its work. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Faith #7 (Wanting more)

 January 11, 2023


It stinks that faith does not always achieve goals or accomplish anything directly. Hebrews 11:13 admits, “All these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth.” [CEB]


If this is the reality of faith, why try? It seems like a lot of work with nothing to show for. Abraham left everything and everyone (except his wife and nephew) to chase a faith-oriented dream. What did he get for his sacrifice? He got one son (of the promise). God then asked him to sacrifice that son. That’s it. The key words, "without receiving the promises," are haunting.


Here’s the problem. In the Hebrew mindset and language, there is no word for “future.” There are few words translated “future” in modern translations, but the reality is we cannot see the future. We can only see the past and stumble backward into what we call the “future.” How could they see “the promises from a distance?” I guess it goes back to the definition of faith in verse one: “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” [CEB]


We believe in a lot of things because we see the results but not the actual thing. For instance, we cannot see the wind, but we talk about its effects all the time. We say, "The wind blew the leaves across the yard." We observe an event, and we name it something we do not see. Today, unseen to the eyes, we can see germs through microscopes and attribute many illnesses to them.


Ever feel like you don't fit in this world? Ever suspect you were designed for so much more? Join the club. "People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland." [Hebrews 11:14 CEB] While we should seek the good and prosperity of the community in which we find ourselves (see Jeremiah 29:7), we must never lose sight of the fact that a follower of Jesus is not bound by this world. Our hope is not in the present. Our security is not in our stuff. Our state is not dependent on circumstances.


Instead of returning to this world, faith inspires people to move into the unknown and unseen “future,” dependent on absolute trust in God. We read, “But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a city for them.” [Hebrews 11:16 CEB]


I am flabbergasted. God takes the initiative and gives us grace. Our response in faith has two effects. First, God is not ashamed to be called our God. Think about all the destructive, dirty, and disgusting things we do... be honest. Despite all that, God is still willing to identify with us. We are His and He is ours. Then, as a bonus, God has prepared "a city" for those who respond in faith. Imagine that. We are immigrants on earth, yet citizens of Heaven. We don’t see it now, but it’s already ours.


That is why we try.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Faith #6 (Never a solo act)

December 23, 2022


Sometimes, the results of “faith” require other people. Hebrews 11:12 states, “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” [ESV]


In English we rarely pay attention to conjunctions unless they are missing. The conjunction that begins this verse connects the previous verse, stating Sarah’s faith which enabled her to have a child, with Abraham’s descendants. The Greek word is “dio” and carries with it the weight of “cause.” The best way to understand this is BECAUSE of Sarah’s faith (cooperating with Abraham’s faith), Abraham had “descendants as many as the stars in heaven.”


Stop and look at that conjunction again. “Therefore…” Because of SARAH’s faith, Abraham was given multiple descendants. It takes two to make a baby. Or does it?


Let’s do that time travel thing we did yesterday. 2,000 years after Sarah’s story we find Mary and Joseph “betrothed.” The Greek word is understood to mean “engaged” in the Gospel of Luke, however, in Matthew the same word is translated “married.”


Put into a social and moral bind over Mary being pregnant, we read, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” [Matthew 1:19 ESV] According to Jewish law, at that time, Mary’s seeming infidelity was just cause for her execution. If Joseph had pressed charges publicly, then Mary would have died and we would not have the Christmas story.


Joseph is then given an explanation and an order, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 1:20 ESV] Joseph obeys (see verse 24).


One’s faith can aid or hinder another person. About Jesus’ home town, “He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.” [Matthew 13:58 CEB] Imagine that, the God that spoke the universe into existence being limited by human disbelief.


Fast-forward another 2,000 years. What is your faith helping or your lack of faith hindering?

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Faith #5 (Sarah)

 December 22, 2022


Faith is not just the purview of men. “By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful.” [Hebrews 11:12 CEB]


Let’s check the Old Testament story. God visits Abraham in Genesis 18 to announce the birth of a son (while on His way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah). Abraham sends Sarah to help prepare food for the visitors. Almost as if He is wanting to avoid being overheard, God asks where Sarah is (Genesis 18:9). Abraham acknowledges that she’s probably eavesdropping. However, this message is intended for BOTH of them. This is a test of THEIR faith. When Sarah hears she will have a child, her response is, "So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old." [Genesis 18:12 CEB] How is this faith?


Letting Sarah know that He is listening in on Sarah’s thoughts as she is listening in on God (catch the humor?), God states, “The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’” [Genesis 18:13 CEB] Sarah is caught eavesdropping (considered bad behavior) and laughing at (disbelieving) a promise of God. She does what comes naturally to human nature. “Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened. But he said, “No, you laughed.” [Genesis 18:15 CEB]


Lying is our nature. It started when Adam declared, “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” [Genesis 3:12 NIV] Was it true that God put Eve in the garden with Adam? Yes. Was it true that she gave him the fruit to eat? Yes. Was it true that Adam ate the fruit? Yes. So where’s the lie? Simply put, Adam deflects responsibility for his actions. The lie Adam tells is, “I’m not responsible.” In fact, he blames God for his predicament. WE are still doing it.


After Sarah is busted for laughing, she is busted for lying. Yet, there seems to be no consequence. Unless you count the fact that her eavesdropping is exposed. Unless you count the fact that her laughter (disbelief) was heard. Unless you count being caught in a lie. That’s humiliating. Somewhere between then and Isaac’s conception, Sarah must have had a change of heart (and faith). She will not face God again with humiliating disbelief accusing her.


In the middle of this story is a lesson: "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" [Genesis 18:15a CEB] Our limited human minds think in terms of easy and hard. I suspect our favorite word is "impossible." Flash forward 2,000 years to a tiny, out-of-the-way hole in the ground called Nazareth and a virgin who is gobsmacked by an angel’s declaration that she will have a son. The angel reminds Mary, "Nothing is impossible for God." [Luke 1:37 CEB]


Flash forward another 2,000 years. What do you think is impossible? I can imagine God smacking us on the back of the head and saying, “Don’t you get it yet?”

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Faith #4 (Abraham)

 December 7, 2022

Occasionally, there seems to be a gap between how we read the Old Testament and what the New Testament appears to be telling us. One such apparent discrepancy appears at the "beginning" of Abraham’s story.


Hebrews 11:8 reads, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going." [CEB] Let’s break this verse down. First, it gives the impression that Abraham obeyed. This obedience is significant because it sets the tone for Abraham’s life. His attitude was "all in," demonstrated by unwavering obedience.


Second, we are told, "He was called to go to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance." Since Abraham did not receive the promise of land at the beginning, my impression is that this is a reference to a spiritual inheritance. In Genesis 12:2, Abraham is promised that he will become a great nation. Attached to this is "you will be a blessing." In other words, Abraham’s descendants were designed, destined, and dedicated for the purpose of blessing non-descendants. Blessing has nothing to do with words; it is action that brings about good and peace for others.


Finally, we are told that Abraham “went out without knowing where he was going.” Two pieces of information jump out about that statement. Abraham must have looked a bit crazy, at least to those who do not know or understand God, to have left his family to follow God’s direction. The older I get, the more I feel the pull of family. Since Abraham was older than me when he received this direction, I’m thinking this tore his heart out.


The second piece of information comes from Genesis 11:31: “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (son of Haran), and his son Abram’s wife, Sarai his daughter-in-law. They left Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan, and arriving at Haran, they settled there.” [CEB] Okay, if Abraham’s dad had set out for Canaan and fallen short, might it have been a vision (or passion) instilled in Abraham? This is where the Old and New seem to conflict. Notice, Abraham was pointed in the direction of Canaan without knowing if that was the final destination. Still, I wonder if it was Terah’s faith that at least set Abraham up for successful obedience. Abraham had learned to listen to (and recognize) God's voice above all the noise, perhaps from Terah.


The first lesson of Abraham’s faith is that faith trusts God even without understanding everything. The second lesson is that faith begets faith. Obedience was the first step that opened the door to an awesome adventure.


So, what is your awesome adventure that God has you on? The journey starts with a step of obedience.


Stick around… more to follow!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Faith #3 (Abel)

August 24, 2022 (Wednesday)


You'd think that people of faith would (or should) be walking around singing "Everything is Awesome" all the time, based on how some preachers portray it. I’ve got news for you: it ain’t happening. As if needing to cut off a poisonous myth, Hebrews lists the first person of faith as Abel. Abel was murdered because of his faith.


We read, "By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice to God than Cain, which showed that he was righteous, since God gave approval to him for his gift. Though he died, he’s still speaking through faith." [Hebrews 11:4 CEB] We are transported back to the second generation of humanity. We see two brothers. Abel demonstrated faith while Cain did not. For a closer look, we need to examine the story in Genesis 4.


Here are the facts: "In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions." [Genesis 4:3 – 4a ESV] Cain was a farmer. That’s hard work, so it makes sense he would bring the work of his hand. Abel, on the other hand, brought the best of his flock. Notice the difference. Abel brought the best, Cain brought an offering. Also notice that Abel brought a "blood sacrifice." This would have been in line with the precedent God established when He made clothing of animal skin to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (dealing with the shame and separation it caused).


The point is that Abel brought a gift that was costly and in line with God’s desire. Cain brought a gift. The result: "The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice." [Genesis 4:4b – 5a CEB] This begins the first "war" over religion.


At this point, Cain had a choice. We read, "Cain became very angry and looked resentful." [Genesis 4:5b CEB] Instead of bringing his attitude and behavior in line with God’s expectations, he became angry at his brother. Resentment built up and he murdered Abel (see Genesis 4:8). We still see humans fighting over what they think is the right way to worship God. The trouble is, when we think we are right, that is where Cain was when he resorted to physical violence. The question is not how WE want to worship God. If we ask the wrong question, we will always get the wrong answer. The question is how God expects us to worship Him.


God warned Cain, “If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.” [Genesis 4:7 CEB] The word picture God paints is that sin is a predator stalking us. Another way to translate this is, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you.” [NLT]


What do we experience in our world? When we give in to sin, it rules us. The natural progression moves its victim to violence (physical, emotional, and spiritual) against others, especially people of faith. Anyone notice how, as we throw open the floodgates of everything unnatural and evil, people are becoming more and more murderous? Even governments are getting in on the action. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Faith #2 (Creation)

August 19, 2022 (Friday)


It is important for us to understand saving faith. It completely rests on Jesus. I believe it is significant that the very next verse explaining faith in Hebrews 11, states, “By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.” [Hebrews 11:3 CEB] I do not think it is a stretch to declare with certainty that having saving faith means the belief in a Creator.


In theological terms, there are four theological positions. The first is "creation ex nihilo," meaning "creation out of nothing." It is the belief that matter is not eternal and was created by God. The contrasting view is "creation ex materia" or "ex nihilo nihil fit" ("nothing comes from nothing"), meaning that what we see came from preexisting things. One of the theological questions comes out of Genesis 1:2: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Some people believe in a pre-existing earth that was destroyed. This is called the "gap theory" and has led to all sorts of erroneous and egregious teaching.


The third idea is “creation ex deo” meaning “creation out of the being of God.” This position understands that the universe we see somehow originates from God in the sense that the physical universe is part of God. The last position is “creation continua” meaning the process of creation is ongoing. The church’s (and Jewish) historic understanding of creation has always been “ex nihilo” in contrast to Greek metaphysical and philosophical models.


The creation formula we read in Genesis 1 is, "God said, "Let there be light." And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night." [Genesis 1:3 – 5 CEB] In this formula we have, God spoke and it was. Verse 4 adds that God saw what was created was good and that God did the creation. Verse 5 adds that God named what was just created.


So there are five elements to the Creation formula: God spoke, what was spoken happened, God recognized it as good, God is credited for the event, and God named what He created. In God’s spoken word, there is power to create (and presumably power to uncreate). So we have this formula in John 1. Notably, it begins in parallel to Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." [John 1:1 CEB] Later, John reveals that Jesus is "the Word."


Paul picks up on this theme when he states, "Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible." [Colossians 1:16a CEB] Simply put, Jesus is the Word through which God the Father created the world. A worldview without a Creator is a worldview where it is not possible for Jesus to be the redeemer. Without Jesus, there is no saving faith.

Thursday, August 18, 2022


August 18, 2022 (Thursday)


After tossing out a head scratcher at the end of Hebrews 10 (the possibility of shrinking back in our faith and ending in complete and utter destruction), we have an explanation of faith. I’m guessing, if we were left with the idea we could shrink back in our faith, the immediate question is what kind of faith saves.


The answer is found in Hebrews 11, starting with the definition: "Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see." [Hebrews 11:1 CEB] Most modern translations use the word "assurance" rather than "reality." It is hard for physical beings to understand spiritual reality. The Greek word is "hupostasis," which can mean "foundation." The idea is the real substance of something. Aristotle used the word to indicate a belief that one holds firmly. In business, the Greek and Roman world used it to mean a guarantee of a transaction (like a title or deed).


What we hope for and what we see would seem to be on two levels. Paul notes, “We live by faith and not by sight.” [2 Corinthians 5:7 CEB] There is a principle that goes beyond what we can see to an absolute trust in God. One of the challenges we have is interpreting what we see. Thus, we allow faith to interpret our experiences.


This faith includes justifying faith but includes much more, as the examples (which follow in Hebrews 11) indicate. Hebrews 11:2, continues, "The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith." [CEB] The rest of the book describes the epic adventures of these elders. Many died, while others suffered. Some were misunderstood while others suffered soul-sucking experiences. One of the toughest might have been Isaac. Other than being sacrificed by his father, nothing happened. He blessed his sons based on a life of nothing happening. He was little more than the next link in the chain. On the other hand, nothing significant had to happen for him to follow God.


What happens when nothing happens? Prayer seems to go unanswered. Healing sought is left without response. Worse yet, what happens when God turns us down? Paul had this frustrating experience: "I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, "My grace is enough for you." [1 Corinthians 12:8 – 9a CEB] Faith does not demand experience. Faith rests confidently on Jesus, rather than on experience. The need to see or experience is a weak, possibly misleading, "faith" that will cause us to experience the "shrinking faith" of Hebrews 10:39. It’s not the kind of faith that saves.

Friday, August 12, 2022

One-way ticket

August 12, 2022 (Friday)


I am saddened when people who should know better become deniers. I’m not talking about things like denying the Holocaust. That was a horrible event in human history that cannot be forgotten or allowed to be repeated. I’m talking about the denial of Biblical truth. Let’s jump into one the most confusing ideas in the Bible.


Hebrews 10:39 states, "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." [ESV] What is this idea of "shrink?" Who can "shrink?" If we back up a verse, we read, "but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." [Hebrews 10:38 ESV] Most modern translations italicize this verse to show it is quoting (or copying) another verse. It seems to reference Romans 1:17. The KJV even reads, "Now the just shall live by faith…" [Hebrews 10:38a KJV] We also see this idea in Galatians 3:11 and Habakkuk 2:4.


I think modern translations are trying to make verse 38 about a specific individual (Jesus) and not about "the just" in general. However, it’s that second clause in verse 38 that is troubling and carried forward to verse 39. In verse 38, the idea of "shrink" is to be cowardly or to conceal. Verse 39 expands the idea further, meaning, shrink. The implication is to shrink into apostasy.


On the surface, these verses seem to destroy the doctrine of final and unconditional perseverance. This is the danger we fall into. Just because we may not like what the verses say, does not mean we can explain them away. There are times when God is simply not clear to the honest mind and we have to take something by faith. Simply put, it is possible to shrink back from our faith. Maybe this was done in a moment of weakness. Maybe this was done under duress. The danger here is that this path leads to destruction. The Greek gives the image of utter and complete destruction. Throughout the book of Hebrews, this path seems to be a one-way ticket with no possible return. Which suggests, if it’s possible to return, then we haven’t crossed the boundary we so nervously want to avoid. If we couldn’t care about returning, we won’t (while the rest of us watch in horror).


Maybe the point is clearer if we read verse 39 this way: "But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved." [CEB] There are two types of people. The fearful, who will shrink or draw back in a critical moment, and those whose faith will see them through any crisis. It’s like he’s saying, you have watched people abandon the faith... you are not going to be one of them.


Which begs the question, why is anyone worried about, arguing for, or denying “final and unconditional perseverance?” Keep your eyes on Jesus, stick to an absolute trust in Jesus, and the question (or should I call it fear?) will ultimately be meaningless.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

In Christ

June 30, 2022 (Thursday)


Let’s do a reality check. We can wonder how good we have to be to get to heaven. However, I suspect when we ask that question, we are wondering how bad a person has to be to go to Hell. On the other hand, maybe we are insecure about our eternal destiny.


Paul struggled with the human condition. Let’s pick up his very personal thoughts in Romans 7:14, "So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin." [NLT] This section is stuffed with personal pronouns. From this, I understand that Paul is bearing his soul in the battle with sin. Those familiar with other translations might be familiar with the struggle between "the spirit" and "the flesh." "Spiritual" is Christianese for "good and pure." The "flesh" stands for all that is diseased, dying, and decaying in this life. In short, the "flesh" pursues sin.


We are sold to sin by two things. Being human, we are sinners by nature. Drawn to sin, we commit sin or omit righteousness. The dynamic of choosing to sin leads to slavery. “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” [Romans 6:16 NLT]


Those of us who are followers of Jesus have been freed from the slavery of sin. "Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace." [Romans 6:14 CEB] The question then becomes, if we have been freed from slavery, why go back to it? The reality is that this is not a matter of willpower. It’s about our nature, "the flesh," continually dragging us back to the vomit (see Proverbs 26:11).


Recognizing the failure of his will to do the things he wants to do, Paul perceives, “But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me.” [Romans 7:17 CEB] In what feels like the cry of a desperate man, Paul admits, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:19 ESV] Can you hear the frustration as he voices his failure? Again, he claims, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” [Romans 7:20 ESV]


Even when he does manage to do right, Paul anguishes, "So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me." [Romans 7:21 CEB] In other words, even when he does what is right, he is doing what is wrong. He cannot escape the mantle of the flesh, dragging him back into the pit of slavery. What Paul is noticing is, "but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body." [Romans 7:23 CEB]


Now all this seems to be a deflection of responsibility. Like the old excuse, "the devil made me do it," Paul is recognizing this eternal struggle for his soul. Yet, he understands his liability in the choice to sin, even if his willpower is useless against the "flesh" (sinful nature). He cries out, "I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?" [Romans 7:24 CEB]


One Roman punishment for murder was to strap the corpse of the victim on the back of the murderer. As the corpse rotted, it would rot the living flesh, eventually causing infection and death. The "flesh" (sinful nature... diseased, dying, and decaying) was literally rotting his soul! Paul has only one hope, one answer to his question, and it is a glorious answer: "Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord." [Romans 7:25 NLT]


Paul declares the highest of Christian beliefs, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 8:1 ESV] So, the real question is not how good or bad one has to be. The real question is if the person is “in Christ Jesus.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Eternal Security?

June 29, 2022 (Wednesday)


When we talk about the theology of salvation in certainties, we speak ignorance. Seldom is the Bible flat-footed on some basic ideas many hold near and dear. Eternal security is one such subject. Let’s take a look at the concept of sin in the believer’s life from 1 John.


Here is an example where we don’t have to proof text one writer (or book) against another. Let’s start with the fact that the book was written to believers. The disciple of Jesus writes to those of us who believe.


John begins with the difference between what we claim and what we practice. "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." [1 John 1:6 ESV] This seems simple enough to agree on. If we say we are Christian but do not live like it, then we lie. Unfortunately, "everyone" knows someone who has claimed to be a follower of Jesus but did not act like it.


The next verse is clear, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7 ESV] If practicing our faith is the first proof then fellowship with other followers of Jesus is the second proof. This leads to the idea that the blood of Jesus cleanses (purifies) us from ALL (every) sin.


Here’s where we begin to do mental gymnastics. It would indicate that there are two conditions or proofs to being cleansed from sin: walking in the light (practicing faith) and fellowship with one another. The lack of either one negates the possibility that our sins are cleansed, purified, or forgiven. So, are these things conditions (things we must do) or proofs (things we are doing because we are cleansed)? This theological division is a false dichotomy. To one who has been cleansed, they are both the same. We walk in the light and have fellowship with one another because that is who we are and who we are is what we want to do.


John then continues with a head scratcher, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." [1 John 1:8 ESV] In verse seven, we conclude we are cleansed from all sin, but in verse eight, we are informed that we cannot claim we have no sin. In our mental gym, one explanation is to think of salvation as separate from being cleansed from sin. We make salvation a legal matter while cleansing or “having sin” is experiential. This begs the question: how good do we have to be to get to heaven?


John obviously believes that a follower of Jesus can and does sin because he offers this remedy, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9 ESV] Notice a shift from the singular “sin” to the plural “sins.” This has led some to theorize the difference between the condition of sin and the acts of sin. Later, he continues, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” [1 John 2:1 ESV]


Let John confuse the issue, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God." [1 John 3:9 ESV] The Greek stresses the absolute impossibility (the literal translation of “he cannot keep on sinning”) of the one born of God to sin. This has led some to the conclusion that if a Christian sins, they are no longer born of God and have “lost” (or forfeited) their salvation. "Born" is a term Jesus used, which we understand to mean "saved" (among other things). The Arminian-Wesleyan perspective is that John is addressing deliberate, premeditated, and controlling sin. Calvinists suggest either the person was never saved or God will kill them before they cross a line and forfeit ("lose") their salvation.


I do not know how God removes ALL (every) sin. I do not know why we lie if we say we have no sin (God has done so). I do not know why, if God has cleansed us, we need to live a continual life of confession leading to a continual life of cleansing. I do not know why or how it is impossible for a believer to sin. I doubt John, moved by the Holy Spirit understood.


I do know the ideal is for a follower of Jesus to NOT sin. I know we stand on dangerous ground if we negate one Bible verse with another to fit our preconceived theological grid. I know that the sum of the matter rests with Jesus, "Christ the righteous." I suspect we are expected to push past the immaturity of the "either-or" attempt to solve something God did not explain, to mature into the truth of Jesus.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Roe v Wade

June 24, 2022 (Friday)


Today, the US Supreme court ruling took a baby-step to restoring our country to sanity. Nobody who supports that a baby can legally be killed in a mother’s womb has the moral ground to complain about gun violence. “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want,” warned Mother Teresa (National prayer breakfast, Feb. 5, 1994).


The question is why do Christians support the life of those still in their mother’s womb?


The base argument is that life begins at conception (fertilization). One of the things we have to acknowledge is that science has created a confusing bog of possibilities that question the concept of conception. While science seeks to explain the physical universe, it is not God. The reality is that what a person thinks about the origin of life is "faith" (a matter of belief). Once science eliminates the fact of a Creator, the world descends into chaos and we lose our unalienable rights. The person in the womb becomes something instead of someone. The oft repeated argument that fertilization does not *always* result in birth due to the loss of the baby is a vicious and hurtful jab at those who have suffered a miscarriage.


If we take a tour of the Bible, we see a definite pattern emerge. Job argues against slavery with these words, "Didn’t the one who made me in the belly make them; didn’t the same one fashion us in the womb?" [Job 31:15 CEB] Claiming God’s sovereignty, Isaiah argued, "The Lord your maker, who formed you in the womb…" [Isaiah 44:2a CEB] When Jeremiah was commissioned as a prophet, God told him, "Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations." [Jeremiah 1:5 CEB] Paul identified a calling similar to Jeremiah’s [see Galatians 1:15].


Many sermons have been directed from Psalm 139:13 – 16. As David notes, "You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb." [Psalm 139:13 CEB] It’s not just the physical part of us that is created in the womb. David declared of God, "Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened." [Psalm 139:16 CEB] Literally, the word that is translated as "embryo" means "unformed substance."


Even before we looked human (which is by 8 weeks of pregnancy), God saw us as a person, a living being, which, according to our Declaration of Independence (and US Constitution), is considered an "unalienable right." We have forgotten history. An unalienable right was something a person was endowed with by "their Creator." They cannot be surrendered, bought, sold, or transferred. In other words, it is not within one person’s right to take another person’s life, no matter the justification.


As a fetus in His mother’s womb, Jesus brought joy. As a fetus in his mother’s womb, John the Baptist reacted to the presence of Jesus. “As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.” [Luke 1:44 CEB] Tell me how those are not qualities of living people.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Recovering from rebellion

June 16, 2022 (Thursday)


David was not the only writer of a Psalm. Several Psalms were written by Korahites. These were the sons of Korah who led a rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16. The earth opened up and swallowed him and his 250 followers. The next day, people complained that Moses had somehow killed them. The result was that 14,700 people died in a plague. Jude notes the willingness to challenge God’s ordained ("Korah’s rebellion") as a symptom of a false teacher.


Korah’s line did not die (see Numbers 26:11, 2 Chronicles 20:19). His line was tasked with being musicians (singers) in the Temple. Possibly the most famous Korahite was the prophet Samuel. Psalm 42 – 43 is an amazing composition attributed to the Korahites (or sons of Korah). Let’s crack it open to see what steps might be taken to recover from such a rebellion.


The first image is one of a deer. It emphasizes the focus and orientation of one’s life. "Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God." [Psalm 42:1 CEB] The image is of a deer desperate for water. However, the need is not just for water; it is for a consistent source of water. Our "soul" (whole being) must desperately crave God. When we do not, we become vulnerable to straying, discord, and rebellion.


Circumstances in life can stink. I’m talking about the kind of stench that is so noxious that we puke involuntarily at the first whiff. The sons of Korah were there. Observe, "My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you…" [Psalm 42:6a NIV] Ever been deeply discouraged? Anyone experience depression? Ever have a moment when it seems you are being pushed off a mountain, stomped on, and spit on? You know the moment when you have hit the ground with a splat and are not running. Korah's sons focused their thoughts on God and His past deeds.


They continue, “Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God.” [Psalm 42:11 CEB] The answer to the turmoil is hope. I know, when scraping yourself off the pavement or digging out of the rubble, how do we manufacture hope? Maybe that’s the point, you don’t because you can’t. Earlier the sons note, “But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me…” [Psalm 42:8 NLT]


At some point, we have to give up, let go, and trust God. One final point, "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God." [Psalm 43:4 ESV] One cause of misery in this world, other than sin, is when we leave the practice of our faith. Consistent attendance at church will be a balm to the soul. Separation from that invites the enemy of our souls to kick us around and choke us out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Person of peace

June 15, 2022 (Wednesday)


It feels to me that we are living in a world hostile to Jesus. Being hostile to Jesus means having an extreme hatred toward Christianity and Christians. Exercising faith and attempting influence in our culture is beginning to carry risks. I personally have experienced death threats. Who would have thought it in the good ol’ US of A?


The question is how do we live in a predominately unbelieving world? My best answer is 1. Remain faithful. 2. Bear witness. 3. Make a difference. Let’s look at the life of Daniel for a moment. A lot of bad things have happened to him. His country had been conquered by a nation that used carted many people into slavery.


Everything has changed. He no longer had the comfort of his native culture. He needed to learn a new language. The food was different. Even their names were changed to suit their masters. All these things are symbols of identity. Despite the fact that all of the externals are subject to change, Daniel determined that some core elements cannot.


We read, "Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so." [Daniel 1:8 CEB] It seems petty to think of Daniel taking a stand on what he ate and drank. The point is that this is something he "could" control. However, there are several things that might have factored into this stand.


The food may not have been acceptable according to the dietary laws God gave the Jews. Second, the food and wine may first have been offered to the Babylonian gods. Daniel understood this would "pollute" his body and spirit. Notice HOW Daniel chose to take the stand. He did so respectfully and through proper channels. There was no hunger strike, protest, riot, or outright rebellion. Daniel addressed the person in charge in a reasoned and respectful manner.


Such behavior gave God some elbow room to work. We next read something that appears miraculous; "Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel." [Daniel 1:9 NTL] When we behave ourselves, even in a hostile and unfavorable environment, good things are possible. In theological terms, it seems Daniel has run across a "person of peace." This is a person willing to be helpful in God’s cause.


Daniel proposes a brief test, which would not endanger the official. It worked. However, Daniel’s attitude, powered by God’s work, propels him and his cohort to the front of the line. We read the result, “Whenever the king consulted them about any aspect of wisdom and understanding, he found them head and shoulders above all the dream interpreters and enchanters in his entire kingdom.” [Daniel 1:20 CEB]


By remaining faithful to God, reasoned and respectful of the authorities over him, Daniel was put in the position to bear witness to the one true God and have a positive influence on the king and the nation he served.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Another paradox

June 10, 2022 (Friday)


Another “head scratcher” is the story of the “witch of Endor.” When Saul became king, he followed the Law concerning dark spiritual practices. On the supply side, Exodus 22:18 specifically states, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” [ESV] (Also see Deuteronomy 18:10 – 11.) On the demand side Leviticus 19:31 warns, “Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the LORD your God.” [NLT]


Saul was in an anxious position. The prophet Samuel was dead and he faced an important battle with the Philistines. Saul first seeks the Lord, “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.” [1 Samuel 28:6 ESV] Receiving silence, a seemingly panicked Saul turns to the dark side, “Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” [1 Samuel 28:7 ESV]


Saul is in this position because of his broken relationship with God. He would not obey the Lord, and he seized Samuel so hard, he tore his robe. His motivation is generally attributed to pride. God took the kingdom from Saul and replaced His spirit with an "evil" spirit to torment him (see 1 Samuel 16:14). At this tragic point in life, Saul seeks out a "medium."


Literally, the Hebrew reads, "owner of an ob" (translated "medium"). The general idea here is that this "witch" had a spirit or some physical place to contact a spirit. Saul crosses enemy controlled territory, climbs a mountain, and arrives exhausted. In a state that borders on deranged, King Saul insists she call on the spirit of Samuel.


It’s here that things get fuzzy. “When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed at Saul, “Why have you tricked me? You are Saul!” [1 Samuel 28:12 CEB] Most Christians would deny that this was actually Samuel. Several reasons lead to this conclusion. First, the theoretical impossibility of communicating with the dead. Second, God would not speak with Saul through approved means, He certainly would not communicate with Saul in this way. King Saul believed it was Samuel, so the text reflects this belief. However, what Saul believed does not make it true.


However, she seems genuinely startled and identifies King Saul. One explanation is that this "scream" was part of the act. The riddle of the story is in 1 Samuel 28:13, "The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth." [1 Samuel 28:14 ESV] From this, I understand it was not the prophet Samuel despite the appearance speaking as Samuel.


God did not show up at the request or manipulation of a medium (traditionally a "witch"). Instead, I think God intervened in the events of Saul’s life. God brings King Saul to the lowest point in his life (so far) to prove a point. It demonstrates God’s ability to take control of any situation, even those we might think of as satanic.


The general warning of Saul’s tragic life and end is of a life lived in service to self. It does not end well. Seeking a word from God through satanic sources is disastrous. The next day, Saul will see his beloved son and heir, Johnathan, die. He would commit suicide. His body and those of his slain sons will be fastened like trophies on a city wall. The people will flee the cities. Israel will be plunged into a bloody civil war, while being occupied by the Philistines.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Balaam paradox

June 8, 2022 (Wednesday)


Every now and then we run across something or someone in the Bible that we can’t make sense of because of our theology. Balaam is one such person. Balaam seems to be a non-Jewish person who communicated with God.


We might be tempted to call Balaam a prophet. Since, when he communicated what God wanted him to say, he was correct. Yet, his heart was not right with God. We mostly know his story from when the king of Moab attempted to bribe him to curse Israel. Again, the story is "complicated." First, God tells him not to go. Then, God tells him to go and sends an angel to kill him for going. His life was spared by a donkey who eventually talked to him.


The story found in Numbers 22 reads like Balaam is not exactly sane. After the donkey talks to him, Balaam proceeds to argue with him. After arriving, with the presumed intention of cursing Israel, Balaam blesses Israel twice. Then we read this gem, “When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping by tribes. Then God’s spirit came on him.” [Numbers 24:1 – 2 ESV] Other translations for “omens” include “divination.”


Now for the questions. Who cares if Balaam curses Israel? Certainly, human curses have no effect on God’s plan or people. Another question is why would God interact with someone who practiced divination? Here is someone who made a living selling blessings and curses. He practices something God calls repugnant (extremely distasteful). In fact, the Law required such people to be put to death.


The fact is, we are not told. My suspicion is that we would not understand the answer. However, God made Himself known and heard through Balaam. Balaam knew the truth of who he was communicating with (both God and devils) and I suspect others did as well. It was in this tension that Balaam and those who heard him were given a choice. Eventually, Balaam did not choose wisely when he taught King Balak how to get the Israelites to bring a curse upon themselves (see Numbers 25 and 31:9).


God can use religious leaders from outside the line of faith. This reinforces the idea that all people, everywhere and at all times, are without excuse. Balaam communicated with Balak, who was blessing Israel. Balak did not take it to heart and found a way to subvert God’s blessing. He did not act in ignorance.


I suspect this may be happening today, all over the world and in every religious situation. God is calling people to Himself. Jesus claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (see John 14:5)